By Josh Shreckengost
Armstrong senior guard Shae Clark (21) dishes out a nice assist to teammate Emma Paul for a lay-up in the third quarter of the River Hawks' 51-36 section win over visiting Fox Chapel on Thursday night. Paul led all scorers with 22 points while Clark chipped in with nine and played stellar defense as Armstrong notched its first-ever win against the Foxes.
Kittannning, Pa. — As the great Bob Dylan once sang, "for the times, they are a-changin'."
The Armstrong girls varsity basketball team bucked the trend of history on Thursday night as the program notched its first-ever win against Fox Chapel. The previous six match-ups between the two teams all ended in victory for the Foxes, but the River Hawks' executed their gameplan to perfection and knocked off a Fox Chapel team which several pundits had predicted would finish near the top of Class 5A Section 2.
Those same pundits picked Armstrong to finish near the bottom of the section, a fact not lost on senior captain Shae Clark and her teammates.
"This is huge," Clark said. "[Fox Chapel] was predicted to finish second in the conference and we were predicted to finish fifth and we came out and did a number on them. We haven't beaten a Fox Chapel team since we've been here [at Armstrong], we've lost to them six times in a row so this is big, this is great."
Coming into the game, Armstrong know that it would have its work cut out, especially in the paint due to the presence of 5-11 senior Ellie Schwartzman. The Foxes' best player was coming off a career effort against Hampton on Monday night when she accomplished a rare feat in high school basketball, the triple-double. Schwartzman scored 11 points, hauled in 21 rebounds and dished out 11 assists against the Talbots to help Fox Chapel to its first win of the season.
Armstrong head coach Kirk Lorigan and his staff drew up a game plan and executed it to perfection, holding Schwartzman to just 12 points and keeping her in foul trouble for the entirety of the contest.
"One of the things that we were kind of concerned about was Kyla [Fitzgerald] defending [Schwartzman] and she started out a little nervous, but on the whole I think she did a great job," Lorigan said. "We rotated some girls on her, but one thing we really talked about was how to draw those fouls and the kids executed that to perfection. They stuck by what we discussed on how we wanted to box her out, how we wanted to attack her off the high ball screens because they switch on every high ball screen. The goal was, if Kyla fouled her out, the team got milkshakes so that's going to cost me a little bit of money down the stretch."
Fox Chapel held the lead at the end of the first quarter, 9-7 and led by a point at the halftime break, 19-18. Armstrong again struggled to make open threes, and while they continued to create good looks from distance, the River Hawks were unable to knock them down. Still, the defensive effort on Schwartzman by Fitzgerald and fellow freshman Sarai Weaver proved to be instrumental in keeping the game close over the course of the first 16 minutes.
Armstrong came out of the locker room flying and began the second half with an 11-0 run to take control of the game. Clark was the consummate floor general, directing the offense and finding the open shooter on several occasions. A two-time team captain and first team all-section selection a year ago, Clark created several turnovers, both with her on-ball defending and her knack for rotating into help defense when needed. Clark's quick hands and basketball IQ were a key reason why the River Hawks were able to open up a 12-point lead in the frame.
Clark was also able to calm her team down and beat the Fox Chapel press, which created a few turnovers and allowed the Foxes to claw back to within five before Armstrong was able to re-establish a double-digit advantage.
"I wasn't worried [about the press] because I know we've worked on it and that we have ball handlers on the court. The momentum was ours the whole game," Clark said. "We had a few spurts, but ultimately our bench, our whole team got into it. This win is a huge confidence boost for us."
Armstrong freshman Emma Paul led all scorers for the second game in a row with a game-high 22 points. Paul has distinguished herself as the team's best scoring threat just two games into her varsity career and has proven that she can score in a variety of ways. Paul was also 10-for-12 from the free throw line including 7-for-8 in the fourth quarter to help the River Hawks keep the Foxes at bay and seal the victory. Clark added nine points and junior guard Olivia Pawk chipped in with seven for the victors.
Armstrong will continue its homestand with another section game on Monday night against visiting Indiana. While the Little Indians also have some size in the paint and will present a challenge for the River Hawks, Lorigan seemed confident that the win over Fox Chapel would serve as yet another building block toward future success in the section as well as continuing the upward momentum of the program.
"I feel like every year, we've been gaining milestones and this win, that's a nice early one for us this season," Lorigan said. "This was a huge one for us. The first win is always the hardest one to get. It's big for the goals we want to accomplish this season. I couldn't be more proud of these kids."
To watch a complete re-broadcast of Armstrong's 51-36 victory over Fox Chapel, click the link below: